In her famous 1964 essay Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag defined camp as a sensibility. She described it as a ‘a consistently aesthetic experience of the world.’
Camp’s exaggeration and love of the theatrical shimmers in Murphy’s shows.
The vicious quick-fire wit of Davis and Crawford exemplifies camp.
And that’s to say nothing to Elektra’s scathing putdowns in the Netflix series Pose.
The shows ooze colour. They are simply gorgeous to look at.
Whether we’re talking the lurid crimson of American Horror Story or the silver gowns and wigs of La Crawford, you can’t turn away from the screen.
And this comes back to a celebration of beauty, another aspect of camp.
But what’s really interesting is Murphy’s exploration of beauty.
In his Netflix shows, beauty can be a dark, destructive force. It traps and distorts. It’s irresistible but frequently comes at a great cost.
Beauty is hard-won but even tougher to maintain, the shows argues.
Just look at his treatment of faded youth. Sharon Stone’s socialite in the Netflix show Ratched is a cross between Norma Desmond and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. What’s not to love there?
Pain and camp are never far apart. And Ryan Murphy consistently offers an unflinching look at the ways people are wounded.
In American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Ryan Murphy offers a sympathetic portrait of a serial killer. Andrew Cunanan is a monster. But Murphy shows us how he came to be one.
Similarly, in the Netflix series Ratched, Mildred is manipulative and depraved. But we also see glimpses of her torment and self-doubt.
The rich tapestry of LGBT history is evident in all Ryan Murphy shows. He has always used LGBT characters, even if they are only on the periphery.
But as his fame and success has grown, he has foregrounded queer lives on Netflix. This takes courage. And it’s brought gay history to a new generation of viewers.
As well as his fictional shows, he has produced wonderful, life-affirming documentaries like Circus of Books.
Additionally, he brought Larry Kramer’s searing AIDS drama The Normal Heart to the big screen.
And most recently, he remade the film of Mart Crowley’s hugely influential gay drama The Boys in the Band.
Ryan Murphy has steadfastly cast and recast a growing line of talented LGBTQ performers.
And then there’s Darren Criss, who chilled us as Andrew Cunanan after appearing in Glee.
But the real Ryan Murphy triumph is assembling the largest cast ever of trans actors ever to plays trans characters in the Netflix series Pose. It’s all about authenticity.
The scripts of the Netflix shows are almost always on point.
The moments of shade between Bette and Joan in Feud have become part of camp lore.
And then there are the scenes that summon up the meaning of community.
Explorations of an alternative family are an integral part of the Ryan Murphy cannon.
The Netflix shows include writing at its best. There’s truth, poignancy and dark humour, often within the same beat.
Ryan Murphy celebrates women. And the lives he portrays on-screen are always three-dimensional. He illuminates what it is to be a woman.
Ratched is centred around a flawed but empathetic nurse. It also led to a career renaissance for Sharon Stone.
These are all examples of championing older actresses.
He understands how the movie industry relegates them to the sidelines. And he won’t tolerate it.
Ryan Murphy has used his power to improve LGBTQ storytelling. He has uncovered hidden stories.
Moreover, his work boldly says that LGBTQ experiences are universal. Our feelings are not ‘niche’.
And he’s not letting up.
His next extravaganza Prom is scheduled for release on Netflix on December 4th. With a cast including Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, it promises to be unmissable.
What’s your favourite Ryan Murphy show and why? Let us know by commenting below.
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